My son doesn’t believe that I sleep; he hears
the computer keys sending Morse Code to my professors;

By day he counts in Mandarin: 一 yī,  二 èr, 三 sān, 四 sì, 五 wŭ…
at night he listens to me speak to a monitor;

the computer screen lights the living room
like a low hanging summer moon, in perigee.

He does not believe that I saw the ghost of a writer
in the kitchen. She was washing her hair in the sink

brown locks dripping honey suckle juice, suds rising
like the crest of an Atlantic wave, carrying slave ships

bodies, tart and sweaty, calling out to Nyame from Ghana
calling to Roog from Senegal; their words marinated

in the ship’s belly, a pre-auction block torture, the spirit
whispered; then dried her hair with a dish towel and followed me

to class and the library, floated freely around Native Son,
hovered around my advisor’s office near his bookshelf,

but when she showed up at my first job, I knew this was a problem,
an erudite Casper can’t be explained away;

she howled while I scrubbed dishes at Valois Restaurant;
she played guitar when I nodded off at the toll booth,

a gig that doesn’t allow smoke breaks.
Sometimes, she sucks in my smokes and makes rings and tells

tales of a fiddler on a Louisianan plantation who lost three fingers
when he tried to steal away with his wife and daughter.

I become dozy; then comes a southern dream of tree lines of bald cypress,
crape myrtles and deciduous oaks, but it is a vitex—the chaste tree

that captures my memory.  A lilac flower is a beacon in the green,
reminding me I have another assignment to complete. I awake

to the sound of dishes crashing or was it change clanking?
My hands morph between clean and metallic; my sleep, broken

like spirits lost in the Atlantic who floated through dense fog
or to New Orleanian pines, finding freedom in books.

from the shoulder of a student (mi hijo) studying Chinese, a language
not easily decoded, characters thickly layered in time

time that beats in the computer’s curser over a blue square
throwing an aqua hue into my groggy visage

like a man with a guitar, I am hunched over;
my song listless in the gray keys.

“Sleeping between jobs while working on a degree” first appeared on our website on March 22, 2021. It will subsequently appear in Meridian Issue 45.

About Post Author

Rochelle Robinson-Dukes

Rochelle Robinson-Dukes is an Associate English Professor at the City Colleges of Chicago, who has been published in African American Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Atlanta Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Poetry Hall Bilingual Journal, The RavensPerch, Rock & Sling, The Temz Review, and the anthology In Other Words. She is the editor of Brownstone Barrio Bards, a yearly journal the publishes south side Chicago poets.